The stretch run is here, and no one saw this season coming for the Sacramento Kings. With 26 games remaining, they sit at 30-26 -- tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings.

If you need any further evidence of the Kings’ shocking season, here is a telling graph from analytics guru, Kirk Goldsberry.  

Picked to win just 25.5 games this season by Las Vegas sportsbooks, the Kings have become an unexplainable anomaly. A group of young players are leading the charge with an incredible pace of play and penchant for hitting the big shot in crunch time.

Of the 26 games remaining, the Kings play 11 at home and 15 on the road. Sacramento is 19-11 at Golden 1 Center this season and 11-15 on the road. The Kings play the next four on the road beginning Wednesday in Denver against the Nuggets.

Toughest Stretch

The next six games on the schedule are easily the most difficult for Sacramento. Following the game in Denver, the Kings head out for the All-Star break. They return to action next Thursday with a battle against the Golden State Warriors, followed by a trip to OKC and then on to Minnesota. They’ll finish the stretch off with a pair of home games against the Bucks and Clippers.

 

On a positive note, the games are spaced out well. There are no back-to-backs or over the stretch and despite the travel, it’s a relatively tame travel schedule. On the downside, the six teams have a combined record of 214-123. The Warriors, Nuggets and Thunder rank one, two, three in the Western Conference and the Bucks are the top team in the East.

Sacramento has a combined record of 4-10 against this group this season. If they can survive the stretch at 2-4 or even 3-3, they set themselves up nicely for the final 20 games.

Easiest Stretch

Beginning March 17, the Kings have a seven-game stretch that is decidedly in their favor. They have a four-game homestand against the Bulls, Nets, Mavs and Suns, followed by three winnable games on the road against the Lakers Mavs and Pelicans.

The group has a combined record of 132-220 on the season. Both the Nets and Lakers are at the .500 mark. The other four teams are well below.

Sacramento has only one set of back-to-backs during the run of games and it’s likely that four of the six teams will be completely out of contention when they play the Kings.

At a minimum, the Kings should win five games during the stretch with a chance to do even more damage than that.

The Finish Line

Sacramento concludes the 2018-19 season with a four-game stretch that may decide their fate. They play at home against Cleveland, on the road against Utah and then finish with the Pelicans at home and the Blazers on the road.

Cleveland is one of the worst teams in the NBA and New Orleans has all kinds of issues that likely will get worse between now and the second week of April. Utah currently sits two games ahead of the Kings in the standings and Portland is up three. The Jazz holds a 2-1 advantage in the season series and Sacramento has split their first two with the Trail Blazers.

Strength of Schedule

The Kings are in an interesting spot. Both teams from Los Angeles are their primary competition going down the stretch, although the Clippers took a sizable step back at the trade deadline when they shipped Tobias Harris to the Sixers.

According to Tankathon.com, Sacramento’s remaining schedule of 26 games is the 18th most difficult in the league with an opponent win percentage of just .492. The Clippers have the 26th most difficult opponent win percentage at .474 over their final 24 games and the Lakers face an opponent win percentage of .513 over their final 26 games, which is the ninth most difficult in the league.

There are teams above the Kings in the standings that could drop back, like Portland, San Antonio and Utah, but all three are seasoned playoff teams that have been through this before. Portland’s schedule is slightly more difficult than Sacramento’s down the stretch and the Spurs and Jazz are easier.

 

Tie Breakers

According to NBA.com:

a. Two Teams Tied
(1) Better winning percentage in games against each other
(2) Better winning percentage against teams in own division (only if tied teams are in same division).
(3) Better winning percentage against teams in own conference.
(4) Better winning percentage against teams eligible for playoffs in own conference (including teams that finished the regular season tied for a playoff position).
(5) Better winning percentage against teams eligible for playoffs in opposite conference (including teams that finished the regular season tied for a playoff position).
(6) Better net result of total points scored less total points allowed against all opponents ("point differential").

b. More Than Two Teams Tied
(1) Better winning percentage in all games among the tied teams.
(2) Better winning percentage against teams in own division (only if all tied teams are in the same division).
(3) Better winning percentage against teams in own conference.
(4) Better winning percentage against teams eligible for playoffs in own conference (including teams that finished the regular season tied for a playoff position).
(5) Better net result of total points scored less total points allowed against all opponents ("point differential").

The Clippers have already won the season series against the Kings and both the Jazz and the Lakers lead 2-1 over Sacramento with one game remaining. The Kings have won the season series with the Spurs, lead the Thunder 2-1 and are tied with the Blazers at 1-1 with a single contest remaining.

Sacramento currently has a 3-9 record in the Pacific Division and they sit at 16-20 in the Western Conference. Neither of these marks are good in regards to tiebreakers.

[RELATED: How Kings transformed one-third of roster in trade flurry]

Prediction

Guessing the outcome of the final 26 games isn’t easy, but if the Kings continue to play the way they have as of late, they have a shot to win between 14-16 games. That would give them a season win total between 44 and 46. That might be enough to make it to the playoffs this season, but we are a long ways away from making that call.